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Freshman lawmakers grade their mid-way point

By Mary J. Cristobal  Illinois Statehouse News

SPRINGFIELD – Freshman lawmakers inherited a multi-billion dollar budget deficit. And as they reached the spring legislative session’s mid-way point, they gave their views on their short tenure in the General Assembly.

Freshman State Rep. Adam Brown, R-Decatur, said his priority is getting the budget aligned.

“I believe the light at the end of the tunnel is that we’ve got some fresh faces,” Brown said. “We’ve got us 20-plus new members with fresh ideas and new perspectives, and I think that blends well with the experience that we’ve had in the statehouse before. So I think headway is being made, but progress is going to be made very slow as well.” 

Lawmakers have two months left before they head out for their summer break, and a final budget for the fiscal year 2012, which starts July 1, needs to be voted on by the scheduled end of session on May 31. 

If the budget is not now the primary focus now, it soon will be.

New State Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, is on the same side as Brown when it comes to getting the state’s fiscal health back in line.

“I think we’re going to put our issues in box A or box B, and box A will be the issues that we have to do to get our fiscal house in order,” Jones said. “And box B will be the items and issues that we need to focus on the human service side and the capital improvement side. But I think the first box we’ll probably tackle will be box A.”

First timer State Rep. Wayne Rosenthal, R-Litchfield, said he’s been seeing freshmen wanting “to come to Springfield and work together to improve things.”

A Senate colleague agreed.

“I think there’s bipartisan support for number of things, and from what I can see is there are a lot of issues that are more geographic in nature as opposed to partisan issues,” said freshman State Sen. Christine Johnson, R-Sycamore. “So something that might be good for my district might also be good for a Democratic district. For example, they might have the same interest because of our agriculture.”

Freshman State Sen. Ron Sandack, R-Lombard, said the first few months have been a learning experience, especially since he’s a member of the minority party.

“It reflects a little bit of built-in frustration that all the committees … obviously are run by the Democratic majority so they determine what bills are called, what bills come out by and large, and what bills get to the floor,” Sandack said “That’s the reality, so I’m learning and adjusting accordingly.”

The Republican lawmaker said he’s only had one bill go through a committee.

State Sen. Suzi Schmidt, R-Lake Villa, acknowledges the committees have been moving slowly. She said she hopes the pace picks up when the General Assembly returns to session next week.

“The filing of 6,000 bills is absolutely ludicrous, and probably out of those 6,000 bills, 5,000 of those should never have been printed up,” Schmidt said. “They bring up bills that are so targeted at certain little things that it’s a waste of time and energy in my opinion.”

Unlike Schmidt, state Rep. Richard Morthland, R-Moline, said he’s still catching his breath.

“I had not realized that it was going to be such a sprint,” Morthland said. “Before I got elected, I had not realized, for instance, that I would have responsibilities to be in three committees at the same time. Apparently violating the laws of physics was part of being elected at the General Assembly. My head’s still spinning, but I’m excited.”

Former State Rep. William Black, whose freshman year was in 1987, said the freshman lawmakers are going through a learning curve.

“So I figured it would take a while for everybody to get used to the process,” Black said. “All in all, I think it’s very simple to criticize them. But I was there for a long time, and I can tell you most of those people work very hard and try to deal with these complicated questions.”

All lawmakers, freshmen and veterans, say that hard work will begin in April and last until at least the final day of May.

Originally reported by Illinois Statehouse News. Read the original article here.

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